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Several acts pull out of Berlin music festival

August 14, 2018

A global campaign to boycott goods and services from Israel is hitting the arts scene. Six artists due to appear at Berlin's Pop-Kultur festival this week have canceled.

A DJ set at Berlin's Pop-Kultur
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Pedersen

One has to scroll down the website of Berlin's Pop-Kultur festival to see the "offending" item, the emblem of the Israeli Embassy — one of six state sponsors of the three-day event, which opens Wednesday.

After the embassy awarded three Israeli artists 1,200 € ($1,370) towards their travel and accommodation costs, the BDS movement — a global campaign to boycott Israeli products and services — demanded a boycott of the popular music and arts festival.

US musician John Maus, Scottish singer-songwriter Alun Woodward, English musician Nadine Shah and her countryman Richard Dawson, the post-punk trio Shopping, and Welsh artist Gwenno seem to have heeded the call. They've cancelled their appearances at Pop-Kultur, justifying their decision with the current political situation involving Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Israel-Argentina boycott organizer talks to DW

Repeat of last year

This is not the first time that the festival has announced canceled performances. Several artists pulled out of last year's festival as well. BDS — which stands for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions — hailed their withdrawl a great success.

BDS supporters claim that they are inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Launched in 2005 by several Palestinian organizations, the movement calls for Israeli goods to be boycotted, economic investments withdrawn and artists' performances cancelled.

Prominent supporters of the campaign include musician and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, music producer and ambient pioneer Brian Eno and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.

Read more: German cities split with 'anti-Semitic' BDS boycott movement

Other events impacted

Stefanie Carp, director of the Ruhrtriennale, an annual arts festival in western Germany, recently came under fire after inviting Young Fathers to perform. The Scottish band have aligned themselves with the BDS campaign.

After the group first agreed, only to later pull out, Carp opted to instead host a panel discussion featuring two BDS supporters. The lack of opposing voices on the panel led North Rhine-Westphalian governor Armin Laschet to stay away from the festival altogether.

Germany's anti-Semitism commissioner Felix Klein has accused the BDS movement of being "anti-Semitic in its methods and goals." In a guest article for the German daily Die Welt, he said that the movement uses "unbearable” methods from the Nazi era that "must neither be condoned nor tolerated.”

Read more: Israel announces travel ban on pro-Palestinian boycott advocates

Organizers dismiss boycott

Pop-Kultur, which hopes to attract around 10,000 music fans from August 15 to 18, has dismissed the BDS activists' claims that Israel's investment in culture is glossing over the actions of the Jewish-majority state in its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

"This type of cooperation is common practice at festivals, exhibitions and events of all genres in international cultural exchange," the festival said in a statement.

Pop-Kultur added that France's Le Bureau Export has also offered travel grants to artists from the country, as have the British Council and its Austrian and Norwegian counterparts.

Organizers insisted they won't be intimidated by the boycott, seeing "the festival's role in overcoming boundaries and creating room for dialogue."

ld/mm/rf (kna, dpa)